Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not cassoulet, just lamb and beans

This isn't cassoulet.  It may be better.  It isn't cholent either. It takes time but not much effort and no hard-to-find ingredients.  It is perfect for a Sunday evening meal, or even a Friday evening. You can leave it to cook while you are toodling around the house.  It can sit in the oven for hours on low either before or after you do the bread crumb topping.

The inspiration for this was twofold.  One is the pre-Pesach purge.  We had some presoaked frozen limas in the fridge, as well as some lamb neck, and I couldn't think of anything better to do with them, perhaps because there isn't.  The other is my father reminiscing about how his mother used to stew limas with meat bones.  You could also use other beans, but the lima was my grandmother's preferred bean.  She also rarely cooked lamb, and I am pretty sure that she never cooked with rosemary, but this dish still tastes like someone's grandmother made it.

What this dish is is REALLY good.  There is something about he combination of meat fat and gelatin and tender beans that is deeply satisfying, particularly on a chilly day accompanied by some red wine.  The quantities below will serve 4-6, though the recipe could be halved or doubled. You could also cook it on 325 for a total of 90 minutes to 2 hours, but slow and steady is  better.

Lamb with Beans

  • 1 pound large white lima beans or gigantes, washed and soaked overnight (see below)
  • 1-2 pounds meaty lamb bones, like neck
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 4-5 cloves garlic
  • 2 anchovy filets (optional but desirable)
  • 1/4  to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional but desirable)
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and bring some water to the boil.
  2. Heat olive oil, reserving about 2 teaspoons,  in  a 4-quart oven safe casserole, dry the lamb, and saute on all sides until nicely browned.  Remove lamb to a dish.
  3. Saute the onions in the oil until they begin to brown, and chop three of the garlic coarsely, add to the pot and saute on low about a minute.  Add the anchovy filets and the Aleppo pepper and mash the anchovy until it becomes a paste.  
  4. Add about a cup of water to the pot and deglaze until the brown bits on the pot have dissolved.
  5. Return the lamb to the pot, add the beans, and barely cover with boiling water.  Tuck the rosemary sprigs into the pot and season with salt and pepper. 
  6. Bring to the simmer, cover and put in the oven for two hours.
  7. Uncover, correct salt and pepper, and put it back for another one or two hours, depending on how tender the lamb and beans are and how much liquid you want.  If you leave it for the full two hours much of the liquid will evaporate and the beans on top will begin to become crusty.
  8. Smash the remaining garlic with salt, and chop-smash into almost a paste. Mix the garlic together  with the bread crumbs and  parsley.  Spread on top of the meat and beans, and return to the oven for 15 minutes to a half hour or even more.  If the bread crumbs are not brown, turn on the broiler for a few minutes, but watch it carefully, since you do not want to burn the bread crumbs or the garlic.  
  9. Serves 4 - 6 with a nice red wine, some salad and maybe some bread.  
The beans: As I mention above, in my grandmother's house it was almost always limas, unless it was cholent and some red kidney beans might sneak in.  You could also make this with another white bean such as great northern or navy.  Gigantes, the giant Greek limas, are my favorite -- they have a great flavor and texture and hold up well under long cooking -- though they are more expensive.  Beans really don't need to be soaked overnight.  As Barbara Kafka has remarked, beans are legumes, and not phantoms, and there is nothing magical about the nighttime.  (Well, maybe there is, but not as far as beans are concerned.)  Just rinse them and soak them in water for 4-8 hours.  Time does not necessarily equal effort.  Once you have soaked beans, you can drain and freeze them so that they are ready on shorter notice.